Mayo's biggest donor leaves far-reaching legacy

Philanthropist Richard O. Jacobson of Des Moines, Iowa, answers questions during a press conference announcing his gift of $100 million to the clinic Thursday, February 3, 2011 at Mayo Clinic Cancer Center in Rochester. His donation will fund the clinic's proton-beam cancer therapy treatment program.

Richard O. Jacobson, the Iowa businessman who gave Mayo Clinic $100 million, has died.

Jacobson gave Mayo Clinic its largest ever gift from a single, living donor in February 2011. The $100 million donation was used to help finance construction of the Richard O. Jacobson Building in downtown Rochester to house the clinic's proton beam cancer therapy program.

"I always dreamed about doing something major with Mayo. With my success in business, this has made my dream come true," he said when the donation was announced. "The proton beam center will help tens of thousands of people throughout the world. For years, I had indicated I wanted to do a major project, and when Mayo brought this project to me, it really excited me."

Jacobson died Friday of stomach cancer at his home in Florida. He was 79.

Jacobson made his fortune through his supply chain and warehouse firm, Jacobson Cos.


When asked how others might match his success, Jacobson simply said, "Work hard and save your money."

When employees stayed at a hotel on a business trip, Jacobson expected them to bring back pens, pads and other hotel-provided items.

"He never wanted to see a purchased pen in the office," Doug Den Adel, trust manager for the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation, told the Des Moines Register. "He always remembered your name, and it didn't matter if you were on the warehouse floor or the boardroom, he could communicate with you."

With no family, Jacobson was a well-known philanthropist. He donated millions to Iowa universities and created the Jacobson Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship at the University of Iowa. He also donated $3.5 million to build the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

When in Rochester to announce his $100 million donation, Jacobson explained his personal history with Mayo Clinic.

"I grew up in Belmond, Iowa, and my mother took me up to the clinic when I was sick," he said. "My grandfather knew the Mayo brothers."

At the groundbreaking for the $188 million proton beam facility, Jacobson recalled meeting with Mayo Clinic CEO John Noseworthy to discuss possible projects. He was particularly excited by the potential of proton beam therapy.

In 2015, Mayo Clinic opened the doors of the Rochester proton beam therapy center and began treating patients.


"The hopes and dreams of our patients have now become a reality," Dr. Noseworthy said at the time. "This is a milestone for Mayo Clinic and (Destination Medical Center). No one … has a center like this one."

Norwest Equity Partners, a private equity firm, bought Jacobson Cos. in 2004 and sold it to Oak Hill Capital Partners in 2007.

French shipping and warehouse giant Norbert Dentressangle purchased Jacobson Cos. in 2014. Norbert Dentressangle has since been sold to XPO Logistics, based in Connecticut.

Celebration of life services for Jacobson will be 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. April 21 at the Marina Cantina, 25 Causeway Blvd., Clearwater Beach, Fla., and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 7 at the Iowa Events Center, 730 Third St., Des Moines.

A private ceremony and interment will take place in Des Moines.

Donations can be directed to the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation, 4201 Westown Parkway, Suite 124, West Des Moines.

Related Topics: MAYO CLINIC
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